Modernity and 'Whiteness'
Modernity and 'Whiteness'
A Definition of Modernity
The novelty of the modern
This wooing of the cosmos - this attempt at a new, unprecedented marriage with the cosmic powers - was enacted in the spirit of technics. But because the lust for profit of the ruling class sought to satisfy its ambition through it, technics betrayed mankind and turned the bridal bed into a bloodbath.
Walter Benjamin, "One-Way Street" 1
We should perhaps begin by stating the obvious: modernity is the determining characteristic of a set of behaviors that have been appearing in social life everywhere for many centuries and that common sense recognizes as discontinuous with and even opposed to the traditional constitution of life. Modernity further refers to a set of behaviors potentially in the process of replacing that traditional constitution of life, after having shown it as obsolete, or as inconsistent and ineffective. From another perspective, modernity can also be seen as a set of objective facts that are sharply incompatible with the established configuration of the lifeworld and that appear as substantial innovations, as facts meant to satisfy a need for transformation arising from the very bosom of this world.
Taken as such, as a set whose elements complement and strengthen one another, modern phenomena appear as a civilizational tendency endowed with a new unitary principle of coherence or a new mode of structuring civilized social life and its corresponding world, of a new "logic" that would replace the ancestral organizing principle, which it designates as "traditional."
To clarify the matter further, I will discuss in no particular order three phenomena in which this characteristic of modernity is manifested or in which this new, modern "logic" is visible in action.
First, I would like to mention that particular modern phenomenon that is perhaps the main one. I am referring to the emergence of a practical form of trust in the purely "physical" dimension - that is, not the "metaphysical" one - of human technical capacity, in a technique based on the use of a kind of reason that protects itself from delirium by means of a form of self-control of mathematical quality. It therefore attends preferentially or exclusively to the profane or non-sacred functioning of nature and the world. The central element of this first modern phenomenon is this trust, present in everyday behavior, in the human capacity to approach or to face nature in purely mundane terms. In other words, it is trust in the human capacity to achieve, through programmed and calculated action - itself derived from a kind of "mathematized" knowledge - more positive effects than those that the traditional approach to the Other, which was an approach of a magical order, could ever guarantee. It is trust in an efficientist immediate (earthly) technique, detached from any mediate (celestial) consequence not intelligible in terms of rational-mathematical causality.
This trust expands and complements itself with other equally modern phenomena, such as the "progressivist" experience of temporality in regard both to life and to the world. This phenomenon refers to the empirical conviction that humans were placed on the earth to dominate it, and increasingly exercise their capacity to conquer it over time, following the straight and ascending timeline of progress. A spatial or geographical version of this progressivism is given by another modern phenomenon, consisting of what can be called "the determination of the city as the proper place of the human." According to this trend, such a place has ceased to be the countryside, the rural world, and has been moved instead to the site of technical progress, where the technical application of mathematical reasoning is established, developed, and used commercially.
As we can see, this is a new kind of trust that imposes itself over the ance